*This article was updated on 16 October 2020.
Noisy neighbours getting on your nerves? Find out what is the right course of action and legal reliefs available for homeowners when it comes to neighbourly disputes.
Love thy neighbour’ is a pretty simple commandment to follow – it simply means respecting others in your neighbourhood and being considerate with one another. Nevertheless, there are always a few bad apples out there who will test your patience or worse, cause harm to you and your family.
If you find yourself in a similar bind – for instance, your next-door neighbour’s nightly house parties which are incredibly noisy and are really getting on your nerves. But all your attempts to resolve the issue is being ignored, then you should consider getting help from the local authorities or take legal action.
Approximately 4,000 complaints were lodged by KL residents between 2012 and 2017 with complaints ranging from noisy neighbours to boundary issues. – Statistics from the Kuala Lumpur Commissioner of Buildings (COB) –
Here are the 4 things you should know about bad neighbours, neighbour disputes and how to handle them:
What is ‘Nuisance’ in Malaysia?
Courts used the term ‘nuisance’ to define the wrongdoings of the ‘hellish’ neighbours. Nuisance, unlike what you might call your siblings when they annoy you, is a legal term and there are two types of nuisances: private and public nuisance. Disputes between two persons fall under private nuisance, which occurs when someone interferes with another person’s right to enjoy their property.
Generally, certain actions of your neighbours, while annoying, may be completely fine by law. In order to successfully prove a case of nuisance, it must be shown that what your neighbour did was an unreasonable, continuous interference with the enjoyment of your property and causes you some form of harm.
What are examples of nuisance in the Malaysian law?
According to Malaysian case law, the following common disputes between neighbours have been found to be a nuisance:-
● Ongoing construction/renovation work causing damage to adjoining properties
● Encroachment of land wherein building structures extends beyond one’s land boundaries
● Causing obstruction by parking vehicle(s) in front or near the neighbour’s home entrance
● Open-air burning
● Using property intended for private dwelling for short term rental purposes
● Turning private residential property into offices, for commercial purposes, etc
● Inter floor leaking issue in strata properties
● Land trespassing
● Making excessive noise or causing a racket during wee hours (between midnight and 6 am) – playing with firecrackers, playing loud music or musical instruments, revving of motor engines and very loud laughter. These include noises made near public roads, public places, business premises, or places which adjoin public roads.
However, keep in mind that just because your neighbour might be doing one or more of the above, it does not automatically mean that it is a nuisance. You would still have to show that their actions have seriously impacted your life in such a way that it has caused you emotional and mental distress or that you were severely inconvenienced.
How do you deal with annoying neighbours?
Before resorting to taking out a lawsuit against your hellish neighbour, here are some steps to take.
1. Set a time to talk to them
Before you storm off to your local authority and possibly worsen your relationship with your neighbour when the authorities turn up, try talking to your neighbour first. Communication is after all the key to all relationships.
2. Explain to them (in a non-aggressive manner) how they are disrupting your daily life
In your talk with them, explain to them – non-aggressively – how their actions are disrupting your daily life. You may be surprised to find out that they did not have any idea that they were being a nuisance.
3. Come to a compromise
If your neighbour has good reason for having caused disruptions all this while and is unable to avoid it, perhaps come to a compromise. For example, perhaps your neighbour has been banging on his drums only after 10pm, and you find out that he has been doing that because it is the only time he can practice. And perhaps he has aspirations to become a world-renowned drummer. A compromise would be asking him to maybe DIY soundproof his room, so that the noise will be reduced.
4. If talking does not work, lodge a complaint with your local authority
If your neighbour has however been causing disruption with full awareness of how much a nuisance s/he is being and refuses to change, you should then lodge a complaint with the local authorities (i.e. DBKL/MBPJ). Under the Local Government Act 1976 (Act 171), local authorities are empowered to resolve certain issues such as dirty or overcrowded houses, animals kept in a place or manner which may be considered a nuisance, accumulation or deposit of matter that would likely become a breeding ground for mosquitoes/flies/vermin and the giving off of smoke or dust which is harmful to the health of the residents.
How to report noisy neighbours or troublesome neighbours
In the case of noisy neighbours or nuisance which disturbs the peace of the neighbourhood, you can file a police report at the nearest police station (PDRM) or call in to lodge a complaint.
The management body of a stratified development may propose and pass additional bylaws during general meetings, on matters such as security measures and the keeping of pets.
Therefore, residents of stratified property should also address their complaints with the management body of their property. Under the Strata Management Act 2013, the management body is given the authority to enforce by-laws which prohibits against nuisance acts. Upon which when violated, they may impose a collectively agreed-upon penalty on the offender.
However, if your management body refuses to act upon the complaint, you can file a complaint or claim with the Strata Management Tribunal to hear and decide upon the issue.
Strata property residents and owners in KL could also seek help from the Strata Community Mediation Centre which was launched in October 2018 to help mediate issues that residents of stratified properties might be facing and to also resolve any disputes that have occurred.
Can I sue my neighbour for being a nuisance? What are the legal reliefs available?
Yes, you can. For non-stratified developments or for disputes that fall out of the by-law realm (for strata developments), homeowners are encouraged to initiate civil action, where the matter will then be dealt with in the court of law. This is provided your peace or negotiation talks don’t work out and the local authority is unable to resolve the matter at hand.
But do keep in mind that whether the courts find the offending act a nuisance or not ultimately depends on the facts and circumstances of each case.
The most common remedies pleaded for in court include:
1) Permanent injunction to stop the offending party from carrying on the acts
2) Claims of monetary compensation for damages suffered.
3) If the offending act is serious and requires an immediate cease; an interlocutory injunction, which is a temporary order to stop the offending act pending the end of the court case, may be applied for through the court.
An example of a case that landed in Malaysian courts centres on a family in Johor Bahru who took legal action against their neighbour for the CCTV cameras which were pointing directly at the front and back of their house.
Besides installing zinc sheets to block the view of the cameras, the family had to constantly keep their doors and windows closed. The worry that they were being constantly monitored caused the family to suffer emotional distress, strain and medical complications. Upon establishing that the family’s right to privacy has been violated, the court ordered that the relevant CCTVs be taken down and issued an injunction to restrain the defendant from installing any CCTV which points into/directed at the plaintiff’s house.
Another case example is Ong Koh Hou v Perbadanan Bandar & YBR Management Sdn Bhd  8 MLJ 616. The plaintiff who moved into his penthouse unit was driven out by a noisy water pump which belonged to the unit above his. The man claimed that the sound which was a persistent banging noise occurred twice every hour throughout the day.
Having tolerated enough, he sued both the condominium developer and the management body. The court went on to constitute it as a nuisance as it was identified that the persistent banging sounds were too much to live with.
At the end of the day, while we might find certain things that our neighbours do annoying, it is a better and wiser choice to get along with your neighbours and avoid getting into disputes as best as you can. You would be surprised at just how effective a gentle word and a peace offering might do to diffuse a tense situation compared to a formal complaint or slapping your neighbour with a legal letter.
To quote Eric Hoffer “The capacity for getting along with our neighbour depends to a large extent on the capacity for getting along with ourselves. The self-respecting individual will try to be as tolerant of his neighbour’s shortcomings as he is of his own.”
Edited by Reena Kaur Bhatt
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